Microporous polymer microspheres with amphoteric character for the solid-phase extraction of acidic and basic analytes

Nadal, Joan Carles and Anderson, Kimberley L. and Dargo, Stuart and Joas, Irvin and Salas, Daniela and Borrull, Francesc and Cormack, Peter A.G. and Marcé, Rosa Maria and Fontanals, Núria (2020) Microporous polymer microspheres with amphoteric character for the solid-phase extraction of acidic and basic analytes. Journal of Chromatography A, 1626. 461348. ISSN 0021-9673

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    Solid-phase extraction (SPE) is a widely-used and very well-established sample preparation technique for liquid samples. An area of on-going focus for innovation in this field concerns the development of new and improved SPE sorbents that can enhance the sensitivity and/or the selectivity of SPE processes. In this context, mixed-mode ion-exchange sorbents have been developed and commercialised, thereby allowing enhanced capacity and selectivity to be offered by one single material. The ion-selectivity of these materials is such that either anion-exchange or cation-exchange is possible, however one limitation to their use is that more than one sorbent type is required to capture both anions and cations. In this paper, we disclose the design, synthesis and exploitation of a novel SPE sorbent based on microporous polymer microspheres with amphoteric character. We show that it is possible to switch the ion-exchange retention mechanism of the sorbent simply by changing the pH of the loading solution; anion-exchange dominates at low pH, cation-exchange dominates at high pH, and both mechanisms can contribute to retention when the polymer-bound amphoteric species, which are based on the α–amino acid sarcosine (N-methylglycine), are in a zwitterionic state. This is an interesting and useful feature, since it allows distinctly different groups of analytes (acids and bases) to be fractionated using one single amphoteric sorbent with dual-functionality. The sarcosine-based sorbent was applied to the SPE of acidic, basic and amphoteric analytes from ultrapure water, river water and effluent wastewater samples. Under optimised conditions (loading 100 mL of sample at pH 6, washing with 1 mL of MeOH and eluting with an acidic or basic additive in MeOH) the recoveries for most of the compounds were from 57% to 87% for river water and from 61% to 88% for effluent wastewater. We anticipate that these results will lay the basis for the development of a new family of multifunctional sorbents, where two or more separation mechanisms can be embedded within one single, bespoke material optimised for application to challenging chemical separations to give significant selectivity advantages over essentially all other state-of-the-art SPE sorbents.